Foot Traffic Patterns Traced via Technology

Posted on March 29, 2012


Fast Company’s March issue portrays a diagram of Sporting Kansas City’s (the MLS soccer team in KC) hi-tech “wired” stadium, Livestrong Sporting Park. The stadium’s technology components were highly influenced by the CIO of the soccer club, Asim Pasha, and are based on the premise of a highly interactive fan experience using technology each person likely carries with him to the game. Among the ideas employed at the facility, like using QR codes tied to seat locations, was the idea of tracking fan foot traffic during the event using cell phones. The data collected are useful to companies that design sports arenas such as the former HOK Sport (I deplore their rebranded name and refuse to use it), and Sporting KC can sell such data.

This scenario has a direct analog to healthcare design. Within healthcare design and operations circles, debate has been ongoing about how to design for optimum functionality (best outcomes, user satisfaction / productivity and efficiency). For example, an emergency department (ED) design. Some argue there is one yet-to-be-fully-developed ED template, or perhaps a couple templates that should satisfy all EDs around the nation regardless of circumstance. The notion of ‘a couple templates’ takes into account possible adjustments for pediatric, urban or very rural populations, but the concept is that local doctors, designers, politics, finances, etcetera should not drive nuances within healthcare design. In other words, there is no need to reinvent the wheel for EDs; there will be a dominant layout and every person, from patient to doctor, interfacing with an ED should know how to maneuver within it. Others argue no ED is the same, and a universal template (or three) will never do.

Either way, in the development of an ED, foot traffic flows are important. Spatial adjancencies are important and distances traveled are important as well. To understand the foot traffic of patients, and employees, technology such as RFID (radio frequency identification) tags in badges have been used to track care giver foot traffic patterns. The use of this technology has opened up a philosophical “Big Brother” debate as to the legitimacy of this data. Some care givers feel this is invasive and their movements will be scrutinized and questioned by management, especially for apparently erratic travel patterns (frequent trips to the bathroom, illicit smoke breaks). Architects and some administrators feel these data are crucial to cracking the code for an ideal project layout, especially with a Lean approach, saving valuable dollars and potentially lives.

Right now, people just do not want to be tailed at work, or feel like their every move is being recorded and analyzed. In addition, there are ways employees can corrupt or frustrate data collection from RFID in hospitals, while cell phone users in a stadium are both in a recreational environment and likely more unaware they are providing such information through GPS simply by carring a phone. As it stands now, RFID or cell phone tracking in a hospital is a fringe utility with a lot of opportunity, and will need more study and operations proof to become a best practice for design—and it may need further study to get social acceptance in the work place. Maybe employee expectations will evolve, just as our privacy beliefs has changed in a post-Facebook world. Call it naive or cynical, but I’m counting on it.